Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Brokering Babysitters?

I was browsing the internet in the past few days and happened across a website suggesting that child care programs increase their revenue and get more exposure in the community by scheduling their staff members out as babysitters for center clients or for members of the community.  This would be a HUGE liability for a child care program.  (I did send a note to the printing company that made this suggestion and explained why they should remove it from their site, but haven’t heard back from them yet.)

So, why is it such a big deal that my heart skipped a beat when I read that suggestion?  Per our lawyer, if we hire someone to work with children, that implies that we believe that person is safe to be around children.  We have done our due diligence with background checks, reference checks, our interview process, initial staff training, etc.  Fair enough, but here’s where it starts to get sticky.  If our staff member then babysits for one of our clients or anyone else that they met through us, the client can rightly assume that we are implying that our staff member is safe to be around children.  If something were to happen to a child while in the care of our staff member (after hours, not on our site, and even without our knowledge), we could be held liable because the client assumed that our staff member was safe to be around children due to our implied recommendation. The only exception to this is if the staff member and client had an existing relationship before meeting in our program; in that case, we are not liable because we are not the cause of the relationship.

Although I do firmly believe that my staff members are safe to be around children, I can only speak for what they do when they are operating within the parameters of my program with my policies and procedures and the oversight of management team.  I simply cannot be responsible for what they do outside of work hours. 

Because of this liability, this is one of the policies that we enforce most strictly.  Each of our staff members and each of our clients has to sign an agreement that they will not enter into a babysitting relationship.  If a staff member babysits for a client, the staff member is immediately fired and the client loses his child care slot. 

If a program were to implement the suggestion made by the printing company to become the broker of after-hours babysitting services and to generate revenue from that service, the program would be more directly liable for anything that went wrong.  No, this is not our most popular policy, but it protects everyone; the staff member, the family, and the program.  If you don’t already have a Staff After-Hours Babysitting Policy, check ours out here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Provider Appreciation Day 2015

This Friday, May 8th, is Provider Appreciation Day.  Child Care Aware has the following recommendations for celebrating the day and celebrating your staff:
  • Call local restaurants, retail stores, and grocery stores to request gift certificates for your staff
  • Plan a luncheon or dinner honoring your staff
  • Hang banners or posters
  • Ask government officials to sign a proclamation
  • Purchase a new piece of equipment in honor of the day
  • Provide a scholarship for an early care education conference or workshop
  • Pay for a day off so a staff member may attend a conference or workshop
  • Organize a spa day
  • Plan a parent/provider picnic
  • Have a parade or dedicate a park
  • Send a press release to your local newspaper
  • Invite staff and parents to partner with you to plan a program-wide event
  • Invite neighboring early childhood organizations to join you in your celebration

The following recommendations are suggested as ways for parents to say “thank you”, but could be appropriate for an organization as well:
  • Send flowers, cards or a handwritten note of appreciation
  • Give your provider a paid day off, a raise, or a bonus
  • Key in on your provider's hobby and buy an appropriate gift

Regardless of how you celebrate the day, I hope it’s a wonderful day for your staff…and for you!  Thank you for all that you do for children.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Primary Caregiving for Infants

Primary caregiving is the assigning of one caregiver to primarily provide the care for one small group of children.  In this system for operating an infant program, the director, the infant teachers, and the parents all understand which staff member has primary responsibility for each child. 

Of course, primary caregiving in a center-based program cannot be exclusive.  The classroom is staffed by more than one person for a reason and the other staff in that room are responsible for contributing to the care of each child in the room.  Because most programs are open for more than 8 hours per day and your staff can’t work more than 8 hours per day on a regular basis, and because they need lunch breaks, the children will obviously be in the care of someone else at some point during the day.  Or, even if the primary caregiver is in the classroom, but is busy caring for another child, another member of the caregiving team will need to step in to help.  The primary caregiver is just that, primary, but not exclusive.  This individual will provide the majority of the care for the child and, therefore, the majority of the communication with the parent.  This person will also work with other staff members to help them understand the needs of each child in their care when they cannot be with them.

Primary caregiving has a few important benefits; all centered around relationships.  The primary relationship is the relationship between the caregiver and the infant.  The caregiver, while assisting with other children, spends most of their work days focused on just a few children, really getting to know them; feeding them, diapering them, playing with them, consoling them.  The children learn to trust this person to care for them.  This relationship allows the child to be more comfortable in the child care environment and allows the caregiver to better respond to, and even anticipate, the needs of each child.  Better understanding the child helps the caregiver to develop a stronger relationship with the parent.

Parents, especially parents of infants, can have a difficult time entrusting their beloved child to the care of someone else.  If parents know, and have a positive relationship with the individual assigned to be primarily responsible for their children’s care, it is much easier to leave their child with that person.  The parent can learn to trust that the caregiver has their child’s best interest at heart and will keep them apprised of their child’s care and development.

Make sure that the Infant Teachers you hire have the appropriate skills, education and experience that they need to be able to be a member of a primary caregiving team.  If you don’t already have a Job Description for your Infant Teachers (or Infant Teachers’ Aides), check ours out at: http://www.daycaretools.com/DaycareProducts.aspx#Personnel

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Did You Hear Me? (Auditory Memory in Young Children)

Auditory memory, the ability to remember things you hear, is a critical component of learning.  Often, it seems like children aren’t paying attention to what we said, or didn’t hear what we said, but it could also be that they can’t remember what we said.  Auditory memory problems are not uncommon and can be an indicator of future learning challenges.

Auditory memory involves taking in information that is presented orally, processing that information, storing the information in the brain, and recalling the information.   Children who struggle with auditory memory often have difficulties in:
  • Following oral directions
  • Reading
  • Spelling
  • Vocabulary
  • Copying text
  • Taking notes

One common, and simple, measure of auditory memory is digit span (how many digits a child can remember).  The standard for young children (up to 6 years of age) is one digit per year of age.  A 2-year-old should be able to remember 2 digits, a 3-year-old should be able to remember 3 digits, etc.

Because these difficulties are so easy to assess informally, and because the skill is so important to learning, an early childhood program is a great place to start overcoming any challenges in this area.  Besides that, activities to improve auditory memory can be a lot of fun!  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Beading Partners—two children (or one adult and one child) sit back-to-back.  Each one needs several stringing beads and a string.  One person strings some beads, then tells their partner what they strung.  The partner has to reproduce the string without looking at it.  When they are done, they compare strings to see if the child matched his partner’s string.
  • Great Calculations—prepare some cards printed with the number of digits you want a child to practice remembering.  Prepare a few cards with one more digit than your target and a few cards with one less digit.  Have one child draw a card from a basket and read the digits slowly to his partner.  The partner will input the digits on a calculator.  The children will compare the card to the calculator to see if the answer is correct.  
  • Group Memory Games—Go around a circle with each person adding to “I’m going on a trip and I need to pack…”  Each person recites each item that was already mentioned and adds one more item to the list.  For example, “I’m going on a trip and I need to pack a toothbrush.”  The next person might say, “I’m going on a trip and I need to pack a toothbrush and my shoes.” 

Enjoy improving a child’s auditory memory…and perhaps your own in the process!


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Avoiding Trouble with the Tax Man

The Internal Revenue Service—words that strike fear in many hearts, especially this time of year.  Tax time is when you see if you have kept good enough financial records that your tax form preparation isn’t too challenging.  Fortunately, the IRS provides a “Technique Guide” for their auditors that can help child care providers understand IRS requirements. 

They note that some of the most troublesome tax areas for child care programs include:
  • Understated income
  • Overstated expenses
  • Inadequate record keeping 

The issues that the IRS finds that most often need to be adjusted after an audit are:
  • Gross receipts
  • Food reimbursement
  • Food expense
  • Business use of home (for Family Child Care Providers)
  • Unusually large expenses
  • Supplies and miscellaneous expenses 

In addition to a personal interview, the auditor may request to see your:
  • Income records
  • Parent Contracts
  • Rate Sheet
  • Payment policy (for when child is sick, on vacation, etc.)
  • Late child pickup and late fee payment policies
  • Transportation fee policy
  • Additional fees like a fee for holding a space, diaper charges, registration fee, space rental, etc.
  • Parent Sign-in Sheets
  • Child emergency contact information
  • Permission for emergency medical treatment
  • Field trip permission slips
  • Annual parent tax statements
  • Food service information
  • Information on forgivable loans

As for program expenses, the auditor’s main concerns would be the date incurred, the cost, and the business use for each expense.

April 15th doesn’t have to be a big deal, as long as you are maintaining good records.  If you see any areas in which you need a little help in record keeping, check out our website.  We have a lot of these forms available at a low cost.  If you don't find what you need, let us know!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Supervising Children in Child Care Programs

Most parents quickly realize that some of the most concerning times with your children are when they are quiet.  That often means they are up to something that they don’t want you to know about.  This is part of the reason that proper child supervision must be not just auditory, but visual as well. 

In order to keep children safe, we have to know what they are doing at any given time.  This is simply not possible if you cannot see them.  So, how do we make sure that children are properly supervised in our programs?  The first thing to do is to make sure the program is properly staffed at all times, including at least two people in a classroom at any given time.  We cannot give our staff members a requirement to meet, then not provide enough staff to implement it.  One person cannot be expected to keep 15 toddlers safe.  If you have a classroom of 16 toddlers and one needs a diaper change, and you can’t afford to have an extra staff member available to help out with diaper time, the person changing the diaper must also be tasked with scanning the classroom throughout the change.  This is the time for multi-tasking; speak with and attend to the toddler whose diaper you are changing while assisting in the supervision of the other children.  While that staff member may not be able to physically get to an area of the classroom that needs attention, they can alert the other staff member of any potential problems that they observe. 

The other thing we need to do for our staff members to ensure proper child supervision is to specifically train them on how to provide appropriate supervision.  Again, we are making a commitment to our staff’s ability to be successful.  We have to give them the proper tools.  We can’t put someone in a classroom and tell them we expect them to supervise each child at all times, then not show them how to do that.  Meeting the needs of each individual child while ensuring that the entire group is being properly supervised can be quite tricky.  As much as it seems like second nature to many of us by now, it’s not intuitive to everyone.  Each staff member must be trained on child supervision during their New Employee Orientation, observed periodically to ensure that they are employing the techniques they were taught, and receive regular follow-up training.  If you don’t already have a training for your staff for child supervision, check ours out at: http://daycaretools.com/DaycareProducts.aspx#Personnel


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Handwriting—Right from the Start

Since I work as a Reading Specialist in my other life, I have recently had a couple of friends ask me about handwriting suggestions for their children.  Their questions, and a couple of new students with atrocious handwriting, have reminded me of how critically important it is to teach children proper handwriting skills.  Breaking bad habits in handwriting is EXTREMELY difficult; it’s soooo much easier to teach proper handwriting in the beginning.  So, my appeal to you as early educators is to teach correct handwriting in your programs and teach proper handwriting techniques to parents so that they can reinforce it at home.
Proper handwriting can certainly make a child’s written work more legible, but it does more than that.  It can help keep the child’s hand, wrist and arm from becoming overly fatigued when writing.  It can also help with the problem of letter reversals.

As with most other skills that children acquire, there are foundational skills that need to be in place before the child is ready to write.  These skills are:
  • Small muscle development
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Visual-perceptual skills—being able to tell what is different and what is the same, recognize forms, and follow the movements to make the forms
  • The ability to hold the crayon, pencil, etc.
  • The ability to form basic strokes
  • The ability to understand the conventions of written language—top to bottom, left to right.

Improving the small muscle development of even the youngest child is a way to start preparing for handwriting.  Something as simple as “tummy-time” for infants can help strengthen the child’s wrist muscles in anticipation of eventual handwriting.  “Crab walking” does the same thing for older children.  Playing with playdough also helps strengthen the muscles in the fingers and wrist.  Other activities for developing these small muscles, while increasing eye-hand coordination include playing with squeeze toys or fidgets (like stress balls), using clothespins or tongs to pick up small items, and stringing beads.  Visual-perceptual skills can be acquired through completing jigsaw puzzles and doing matching activities.

While a very young child starts by holding a crayon in his fist, children who are beginning to write should have developed a more mature grip.  If a child is having difficulty developing a proper grip, there are tools like pencil grips that are commercially available.  If you’re not sure about what constitutes a good grip, there are a lot of online resources or, if you know an Occupational Therapist, I’m sure they would be willing to talk with you about it.  If the child is wrapping his wrist around when he writes rather than extending it, you can do wrist strengthening exercises and have the child write either on a vertical whiteboard (or chalkboard) or on a slanted board on the desk or table. 

There are a lot of free traceable downloads available to help children understand the basic strokes required in handwriting—top to bottom, left to right, diagonals, and circles.  Just make sure that you teach the children the proper strokes; don’t just give them the paper and let them make the strokes however they think they should.  Throughout the child’s time with you, you should be demonstrating the top-to-bottom, left-to-right conventions of our language.  When you read a big-book to children, use your hand to follow along with what you’re reading.  Any time children are writing, they should be writing from left to right. 
If children are taught correct letter formation from the start, letter reversals will be virtually eliminated.  For example, the two most confused letters are “b” and “d”.  A lowercase “b” should be formed with the line first, then the circle.  A lowercase “d”, on the other hand, is formed with the circle first, then the line.  If children learn to form them this way, and are taught a solid left-to-right progression, they will have much less difficulty in discriminating between these two letters.

So, from someone who works extensively with elementary-age children with very bad handwriting habits, please, please, please, teach them proper handwriting from the beginning.  And, don’t forget to teach their parents the same thing.  Many parents weren’t taught proper handwriting, so don’t know how to make sure their children are forming their letters correctly.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Substitute Employees in Child Care

In any job, employees will miss occasional days of work.  Some businesses can just live without someone in that position for a short time.  In child care, that is simply not an option.  We have teacher-child ratios and quality of care standards that have to be met, so we have to have substitute teachers when one of our regular staff members is unavailable. 

Substitutes are tricky.  Ideally, you will have a couple of part-time employees who can extend their hours for a day or two to cover for their co-worker.  Alternately, you may have an employee (or a few) who have agreed to work on-call.  In a smaller program, these people are more difficult to keep on staff as they do not usually get work frequently, but some are willing to stay for the opportunity for a regular position when someone leaves.  One other option, if there is one in your area, is a substitute agency.  You can contact them when you have someone out for the day and, ideally, they can provide a substitute to cover.  Of course, these agencies are significantly more expensive than paying your own staff member, but they may be a viable option if you don’t have anything else. 

Regardless of how you secure your substitute, you have to make sure the person knows what you expect of their employment, even if it’s just for a day.  We do this through a Substitute Agreement Form.  This form is a combination of our Employment Offer, Job Description, Standards of Conduct, and Statement of Understanding.  We don’t need those full documents for a substitute, but components of each of those documents are important.  We need to make sure this person understands that their employment is at-will and not guaranteed for any specific time or hours.  We ensure that the individual is qualified for the position for which we are hiring them.  We explain payroll procedures so there are no misunderstandings.  Finally, we go over the expectations for the job itself; how they are to guide and supervise children; keep them safe; interact with them; interact with the parents and other staff members; and use the program’s resources.  Making sure our expectations are clear from the start helps prevent future misunderstandings and gives our temporary employees the tools they need to be successful.

If you don’t have a Substitute Agreement Form yet, check ours out here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Early Learning—Gross Motor Area

For most of us, our primary Gross Motor Area will be our outdoor playground which will, ideally, have a variety of hard and soft surfaces and a variety of stationary and movable materials.  As wonderful as the outdoor area can be, a Gross Motor Area inside can be very useful.  There are times when weather just doesn’t permit outdoor play and, of course, there are children who could use more gross motor time than you can provide outdoors. 

If you are fortunate enough to have a large, dedicated indoor Gross Motor area, you are in the minority.  So, we will talk about a Gross Motor Area within a classroom or Family Child Care Home.  Because of the activity level and noise level anticipated in this area, it should not be near any of your quieter areas.  Ideally, it will have a carpeted surface to provide some padding.  You will need to have mats around for any activities in which children are tumbling or off the ground in any way. 

Along with mats, you may want to include:
  • A balance beam or even just lines taped on the floor.
  • Balls of various sizes and textures.
  • Tunnels.
  • Large building blocks.
  • A small climbing structure.
  • Hula hoops.
  • Plastic cones.
  • A bean bag toss game.
  • Scarves or streamers.
  • A music player with some movement-type cds or mp3s.

Parents understand the need for children to get some extra energy out through gross motor play.  What we may need to help them understand is what their children learn through these types of activities.  Of course, there are the physical skills that are acquired, like hopping, skipping, bouncing a ball, balancing, etc.  But children can also acquire a sense of rhythm and the ability to move their bodies to rhythms.  Social skills are also huge in a Gross Motor Area.  Generally, this area won’t be big enough that everyone can do what they want at any given time, so they will have to learn skills like turn-taking and compromising; skills that will be important throughout their lives.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Early Learning—Science Area

Last week we talked about a Sensory Play Area in your classroom.  In this area, children often have the opportunity to learn some science concepts such as what sinks and what floats or what happens when you mix sand and water.  This week, we’ll talk about extending into a full-fledged Science Area. 
Obviously, in our toddler or preschool Science Area, we’re not going to include a chemistry set or anything else hazardous.  But, this is a great place for children to start learning about the world around them and about experimentation and basic scientific processes. 
Because children will be learning about making careful observations and thinking deeply about what they are doing, the Science Area should be in a quieter section of the classroom.  Ideally, it would be on a hard surface, for ease of cleaning, but with a washable rug for comfort.  Generally, children will be sitting at a small table or standing in this area, but it’s also always nice to have a comfortable area on the floor to sit or lie down, if desired.  Your Science Area should have some low shelves to separate it from the other learning areas and to neatly store your science tools and materials.
Your Science Area should be rotated frequently, but also have space available for long-term experiments to remain undisturbed.  You can rotate the materials according to your weekly or monthly theme and also with the seasons.  The goal of the Science Area is for children to explore the environment around them, so seasonal activities are very important.  Just make sure you provide a balance between varied activities and long-term observations.
Tools and/or activities for a Science Area could include:
  • Local seasonal items like leaves, pine cones, acorns, and snow.
  • Rocks and shells.
  • Seeds or plants to grow.
  • Pets, insect farms, or an aquarium (with everything treated humanely and provided with veterinary care as appropriate). 
  • Scales and balances.
  • Magnifying glasses.
  • Magnets and magnetic and non-magnetic materials.
  • Color paddles and color wheels.
  • Rulers and measuring tapes.
  • Science books.
  • “Tornado tube” with plastic bottles.
  • Posters of nature, weather, etc.
  • Gears, ramps, and pulleys.
  • Paper or notepads and pencils for taking notes.
The Science Area is a great place to have fun with your little environmental detectives!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Early Learning—Sensory Play Area

Parents will often see the Sensory Play Area as just a play area and not understand the great skills that their children are acquiring in this area.  Not only are they learning math and science concepts, but they are learning critical social-emotional skills. 

From a social point of view, a child will rarely be alone in the Sensory Play Area.  For this reason, there will be a lot of give-and-take, a lot of cooperative learning, a lot of compromising.  What great life skills!  As for the emotional piece, sensory play can be very soothing.  We all have coping mechanisms for when we get stressed; perhaps chewing fingernails, smoking, or taking a nice warm shower.  These are all sensorial experiences that we have learned over time to soothe ourselves  (and, no, I’m not promoting smoking or even fingernail chewing, but recognize that these are commonly used soothing mechanisms for adults).  Some of us even have worry stones or stress balls on our desks.  This is what the Sensory Play Area does for children.  They can plunge their hands into water, let sand sift through their fingers, or squeeze playdough to soothe themselves when they are feeling stressed. 

Any learning area that involves water, sand, and playdough should not be located in a carpeted area of your classroom if possible.  If it must be located on carpet, make sure that you have a lot of plastic mats available to protect your carpet.  At the same time, your flooring must be non-slip so that, when it does get wet, the children (and staff) are not in danger of slipping and falling.  Ideally, your Sensory Play Area will be located near your back door so that it can be used both indoors and outdoors.  Specially-made sand and water tables are great, but not necessary.  If you don’t have the space or money for these, dishpans or plastic bins work well also.  Along with sand and water, you can use a variety of sensorial materials like clean mud (basically toilet paper, soap, and water), real mud, snow, packing peanuts, beads, and, depending upon your philosophical beliefs, rice, beans, or cornmeal.  (Keep in mind that your materials and water containers have to be appropriate for the age of children in your program.)  You also need tools for playing with these materials.  These tools could include: 
  • Rakes, shovels, spoons, and scoops
  • Buckets and sand molds
  • Cups and bottles
  • Sand wheels
  • Measuring cups
  • Funnels
  • Sifters
  • Egg beaters
  • Plastic boats
  • And don’t forget the smocks to help keep the children’s clothes clean.

Looking at these materials, we can see what types of things the children will learn in the Sensory Play Area.  We’re talking about a lot of math and science concepts here.  How many cups of sand will fit in this bottle…and how do I get it in there?  What happens when I mix water with the sand?  What will sink and what will float?  As with any learning center, you can change out both the tools and the materials to fit the theme of the week.

Next week, we’ll talk about expanding the learning about scientific concepts into a specific Science Area.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Early Learning—Manipulatives Area

This week, we’ll talk about the Manipulatives Area.  Manipulatives, also known as Table Toys, are great because they can be very appealing to children and can teach a lot of different skills.  While this area can contain a huge variety of materials, it’s best to keep it well-stocked but not overwhelming.  It’s also best to rotate materials so that children do not become bored with them.  Some items to include in your Manipulatives Area are:
  • Building materials like bristle blocks and Legos
  • Geoboards
  • Pegboards and pegs
  • A variety of puzzles (variety in subject matter, size, material, and difficulty); don’t forget floor puzzles
  • A variety of counters and sorting containers
  • Games (lotto, bingo, etc. for numbers, color, shapes)
  • Gear boards
  • Pattern cards
  • Dressing frames
  • Sequencing activities
  • Tanagrams
  • Beads and laces

As you can see, there are a ton of things you can put in your Manipulatives Area.  If you see a child falling behind in one area of learning, there is probably something you can add to your Manipulatives Area to help that child.  For example, if a child is having difficulty with learning the sounds of letters, you could add an activity in which the child matches the letter with small items beginning with that sound. Oh, and one of the really cool things about manipulatives is that you can make a lot of them yourself!

Some of the skills and concepts that are learned in the Manipulatives Area include:
  • Fine motor skills
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Shapes and colors
  • Matching and classifying
  • Following directions
  • Visual discrimination
  • Sequencing
  • Identifying patterns
  • Problem solving
  • Concentration

Because this is an area that could promote teamwork in some activities, and the play could become a little louder, it’s best to locate it away from your quietest areas.  Ideally, your Manipulatives Area would have both a table and a rug where children could work.  The materials should be on low shelves, well organized and clearly labeled so that children can return the materials to the proper place.

Next week, we’ll talk about Sensory Play.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Early Learning—Art Area

After a few weeks of talking about different learning areas, we finally come to an area that most parents appreciate—the Art Area.  Parents love to have artwork from their children.  The trick with the Art Area is to help the parents to understand that this, like the other areas, is an area for learning.  The first place where this may arise is when the parent doesn’t understand the child’s art work.  (“What is it?”, “Why did you let him make the sky green?”) It is our job to teach the parent that our focus in early education is on the process, not the product.  Therefore, the product may not be exactly what the parent was expecting.  But, in the process, their child may have learned:
  • Creativity
  • Fine motor skills
  • Hand/eye coordination
  • Self-expression
  • Vocabulary
  • Confidence
Ideally, your Art Area will be located near a window to allow for natural lighting.  The flooring should be a hard surface, not carpeting.  If this is not possible, plastic mats can help save your carpet.  It also should be located as near to a sink as possible to allow for easier cleanup and less tracking of mess through your classroom. 

As for materials, again, we are looking for open-ended activities which provide for creative expression.  We’re not after 25 Christmas cards that each look just like a model provided by the teacher, or an insect made from a craft kit.  Your art materials should reflect your philosophy.  Some suggestions are (keeping in mind that age-appropriateness is very important in the Art Area):
  • A variety of paper—large and small, colored and white, construction paper, newsprint, finger paint paper, cardboard, lined and unlined
  • A variety of materials for drawing and writing—pencils, crayons, markers
  • Scissors and hole punches
  • Glue and tape
  • Collage materials
  • Paint brushes and sponges
  • A variety of paints—tempera, watercolor, finger paint
  • Smocks
  • Modeling/sensory materials—playdough, shaving cream, cookie cutters, rolling pins, plastic knives
  • Seasonal materials—used greeting cards, natural materials—acorns, pine cones, leaves, etc.
  • Recycled materials—plastic cups, bottles, etc.
Your Art Area should also include appropriate tables and chairs, easels, and drying racks or somewhere that the art projects can be protected while they dry.  Keep in mind, too, that your Art Area can easily be extended outdoors as well.

Next week, we’ll move on to manipulatives.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Early Learning—Dramatic Play Area

Last week we talked about your Block Area and how it’s sometimes difficult for parents to see what their children are learning in that area.  This week, we take on an even bigger challenge; the Dramatic Play Area.  “Seeing” learning in a Dramatic Play Area can be difficult.  Parents can also feel challenged when their child is choosing an activity that does not meet the parent’s expectation of gender appropriateness.  I once had a father become very upset because his son chose to play with a baby doll.  Of course, what this father didn’t see was that his son was trying out a role and practicing caring for someone else.  

So, other than caring skills and empathy, what else can children learn in a Dramatic Play Area?
  • Compromise and problem-solving skills.  If two children both want the same role, but it wouldn’t be appropriate, or we just don’t have enough materials for it, how do they decide who gets to play which role?  How do you keep the play going if there is a conflict?
  • Fine and gross-motor skills.  Putting on costumes can be tricky, as can working with various props.
  • Language.  Certain language is appropriate for certain situations.  Children learn to use the right vocabulary and phrasing for their make-believe situation.
  • Writing.  If your Dramatic Play Area is a restaurant this week, someone will need to write down the customers’ orders.
  • Empathy.  Children can learn to understand how they are feeling about a situation and how their classmate is feeling as well.
  • Creativity.  We can provide the best space in the world, but the children still need to develop their own story in using the space and the props.

Speaking of space and props, what will that look like?
  • Like the Block Area, the Dramatic Play Area needs to be away from your quiet areas. 
  • The space needs to be well-defined, but not necessarily by shelves.  A shelf for materials can be quite useful, but a lot of Dramatic Play Areas will have kitchen furniture (stove, refrigerator, etc.) and some sort of coat rack or other method of hanging clothes/costumes.
  • The space needs to be well-organized.  Dramatic Play Areas can become overwhelming with too many materials that are not easily accessible.  A few items on hooks will be used much more than a huge box of random clothes. 
  • Provide a variety of materials—pants, shirts, dresses, hats (that can be easily and regularly washed), shoes, accessories, household items, writing materials.
  • Rotate your materials.  As much fun as dramatic play can be, it can also get boring if it’s always the same items.  This is another great place to bring in props related to your current theme.  This will extend learning on your theme and keep your Dramatic Play Area from becoming boring.  

Next week, we’ll talk about an Art Area.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Early Learning—Block Area

We’re in the midst of a series of articles about setting up environments in early learning.  Last week we talked about a Literacy Area; this week we’ll dig into the Block Area.

A Block Area is often very popular with the children, but not so much with the parents.  They often have a hard time seeing the learning experiences their children are having in the Block Area.  Does it really matter if a child can build with blocks?  We have to be able to explain why it is important; and even more, what else the child is learning during this process.
  • Frequently, block play is accomplished with a partner.  This is a great place for children to learn the give-and-take required when working with someone else.
  • Just like in your Literacy Area, your Block Area can help children to develop their vocabulary.  They can learn what an arch is and how to describe what it is they are doing.  Props can be especially helpful in enhancing vocabulary.
  • Number awareness—“How many blocks did you stack?”  “How many blocks do you think you will need to do that?”
  • Geometry—what a perfect place to learn the names of the shapes!  How do squares differ from rectangles?  What’s the difference between a triangle and a pyramid?
  • Relationship between size and shape.
  • Planning—what blocks can stack on others and which will fall over?
  • Motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
  • Color names.
  • Color matching.
  • Making or identifying patterns.

The location of the Block Area in the classroom is not critical.  The main considerations are that you don’t want it near your quiet area and it needs to be in an area where it can be physically separated from other areas to help keep creations from being accidentally knocked over.  So, what do you need in your block area?
  • Low shelves to hold the materials and to protect the area from passersby.
  • Ideally, both a space with hard flooring and another space with a low-pile rug.
  • A wide variety of blocks in different sizes, shapes, colors, and materials.
  • Props—especially helpful if they are related to any theme that you might be learning.  Props can include vehicles, people, signs, and books.
  • An organizational system to keep the blocks in the right place.  This will also help the children with matching skills; make sure you put the blocks away properly.

Hopefully, once you explain to parents everything their children are learning in this area, they will be pleased when they see their children building a creation.  Next week, we’ll talk about a Dramatic Play Area.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Early Learning—Literacy Area

Last week, I started talking about developmentally-appropriate environments in early childhood programs.  Now we’ll start getting into specifics; some activities/materials that can be included in each learning area and what the children will learn from them.  Before I do that, though, I do need to clear up one issue.  I received an email from a family child care provider who reminded me that family child care should always look like a home rather than a center.  I couldn’t agree more (and, thanks, Irene for reminding me that I should include this).  However, I do think these articles can be useful to family child care providers also as they examine their programs and think about their curriculum.  We need to all, centers or family day cares, make sure that our programs and facilities are set up in ways to provide developmentally-appropriate learning activities and that we understand developmentally-appropriate education well enough to be able to explain it to the parents of the children in our care.

The first area is the Literacy area.  (Yes, I’m choosing this area first, in part, because I’m also a reading specialist.)  Literacy is a pretty easy sell to parents as learning to read is frequently one of parents’ top priorities for their children.  The problem, though, is that they are often focused on “when will my child learn to read”, without understanding the skills that have to be acquired before a child can read.

In setting up your Literacy area, the first consideration is where it’s located.  It should be in the quietest section of the room so that children can enjoy books without a lot of distractions.  Also, keep it as far away from the messy areas like Art and Sensory Play to protect your books.  If it can be placed near a window, natural light is nice.  A floor or table lamp is also a nice touch.

Your Literacy area should be comfortable; a place where children can relax.  If the area is not carpeted, a small rug will do the trick.  You will need chairs, bean bags, a small sofa, or some other comfortable place for children to sit.  A small table is also helpful for writing activities, keeping in mind that Literacy involves writing as well as reading.

Some things to include in your Literacy area are:
  • Books!! 
    • A wide variety of books, along with magazines and even newspapers. 
    • Reading materials should be at a variety of reading levels so that there is appropriate reading material for each student. 
    • New reading materials should be added periodically to keep the children’s interest and to correspond with your other learning objectives (theme of the week, etc.)
  • Low shelves so that children can easily reach the books.
  • Recordings with accompanying books.  (with headphones)
  • Puppets, flannel board stories, or other literacy props.
  • Literacy games—match objects to the objects that begin with the same sound or with the letter with which they start; rhyming; matching capital letters with lower-case letters; sight words
  • Different types of paper (for drawing and writing); pencils, crayons, and markers

As children explore the Literacy area, we can help parents understand that their children are learning:
  • vocabulary
  • books are read from front to back and pages are read from top to bottom, left to right
  • some words sound the same at the beginning and others at the end
  • sounds are represented by letters and letters form words
  • children can use letters to express their thoughts
  • reading is an enjoyable activity

Next week, we’ll talk about a Block area.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Early Learning—A Developmentally-Appropriate Environment

I have spent a lot of time over the years talking with both parents and staff about child care environments.  For parents, we talk about how to recognize an appropriate environment for their child.  For staff, it’s about how to set up and maintain an appropriate environment.  But, for both groups, we talk about why the environment is set up the way it is and what children will learn through that environment and the activities that we provide.
Parents often want to see concrete examples of what their children are learning in our program.  They want to see them reading, doing worksheets, bringing home cute artwork, etc.  Our job, along with teaching the children in a developmentally-appropriate manner, is to educate the parents on appropriate education.  We do that by designing our environment correctly and by working directly with the parents, helping them understand our design and our learning activities.
Typically, an early learning program will have a gathering area where children and teachers can meet throughout the day to work on large group activities.  It can be a rug, a circle, or just a specific area that is set aside.  In this area, you may meet in the morning to talk about the upcoming day, including the day of the week and date, the weather, anything special about that day, and plans for the day.  Perhaps you can meet together before lunch and read a big-book together.  This is also a good place to wrap up your day together. 
Along with a gathering area, most programs will have specific areas set aside for:
  • Literacy
  • Blocks
  • Dramatic Play
  • Art
  • Manipulatives
  • Sensory Play
  • Science
  • Gross Motor
Some programs may also include a specific computer area, but care must be taken to ensure that the software is educational and appropriate and that screen-time recommendations are followed.

Over the next several weeks, we will discuss each of these learning areas in-depth; what it looks like and what the children will learn from it.  Make sure your staff  and parents all understand these ‘whats’ and ‘whys’.